Onstage Playhouse Brings First Musical Production in Two Years

The Chula Vista Venue's Staging of First Date is Hilarious and Uplifting with a Vibrant Young Cast 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Benjamin Monts, Andrew Gutierrez, KylieYoung, and Shelby Beltran in First Date. Photo by Daren Scott

First Date is from the "new era" of American musicals premiering 10 years ago in Seattle and on Broadway in 2013, with a book by Austin Winsberg and music and lyrics by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner. Onstage Playhouse brings a very funny and entertaining production of this timeless piece which many can identify with. Because many have gone on a blind date and/or have been set up by a friend or family member (dating apps aside). First Date is also the first musical at Onstage since the shutdown over two years ago.

The musical starts with five people singing about dating disasters shifting then to the restaurant/bar, "The Grub Spot" where Aaron (Benjamin Monts) walks in all nervous and asks the bartender (Enrique Arana) for a drink recommendation which the bartender “recognizes" is a blind date. In walks Casey, performed by Adelaida Martinez -but because of a shuffle-ball-change in the cast- in the performance I saw was Kylie Young, who actually plays Casey's sister Lauren and in this performance was played by Emily Candia. Hope that got through clearly... Ahhh that is the wonder of theatre, understudies, swings, and the show must go on.
Jaden Guerrero, Shelby Beltran, and EnriqueArana in First Date. Photo by Daren Scott

Emily is happily married, and her husband works with Aaron, hence the blind date. She is also worried about her sister's biological clock and settling down. Casey is a serial dater and lover of bad boys. The one-act plot is filled with hilarious and relatable songs about dating (First Impressions), being from different religions (The Girl For You), past relationships (That's Why You Love Me), and the ever-classic scheduled call during a first date in case things are going south (Bailout Song), performed in a format that was either a memory or a foreshadowing that was fresh and uber entertaining. The young ensemble is funny, fabulous, and fantastic having audiences laughing non-stop truly complementing and rounding out the story, while each of them portrays more than three different characters. A difficult task that is well resolved and tightly delivered with Kevin “Blax” Burroughs's direction which also allowed the actors to use all corners of the small space to interact with audience members and break the fourth wall. Andrew Gutierrez is a hoot in all his roles but especially as Casey's best friend Reggie and the ex-boyfriend stoner, giving mean dance moves and rapping skills. Shelby Beltran is sweet with a potent voice and serious comedic flare, dazzling with her talent and charm. It is great to see Jaden Guerrero back in a contrasting light after his heavy portrayal of Timmy in Turning Off the Morning NewsGuerrero steps it up showing different acting abilities in this comedy as bad-boy Gabe, Aaron's best friend amongst other humorous roles. Arriba Peru! with Enrique Arana as the struggling performer -dimples for days-amazing hair-/bartender-waiter who is absolutely charming. 

Benjamin Monts, Enrique Arana, and KylieYoung in First Date. Photo by Daren Scott
Onstage Playhouse rising to the challenge in this production, presents First Date with live music directed by Benjamin Goniea also in keys, Roy Jenkins in bass, and Preston Lange in drums. A truly admirable effort that definitely adds to the piece. Reiko Huffman's set design is beautiful and functional with every detail to the core from the high-top tables accented with tangled branches on the bases, to the bar where actors hop on and off to sing and dance, and the restaurant menu changing option specials on a screen. Just lovely.

When cast changes happen last minute, it is a very interesting exercise to watch, like an "all hands on deck" or "toda la carne en el asador" moment. Emily Candia who in this performance pivoted as the obsessive sister Lauren is fantastic. She does it all! sing, dance, and do serious but funny. Having her last acting reference in Drowning Girls and seeing other acting layers, is without a doubt awesome, sort of being witness to an actor's journey/trajectory. Kylie Young stepping in for Adelaida as Casey was also very good and she looked amazing, although I felt the rapport with Benjamin Monts who was also good was not as solid and tight as the ensemble. The hits and the notes were there, it just needed a bit of tightening which surely will happen along the performances. It would be cool to come back and see the show with the roles as originally planned. (Maybe I will go back and let you all know).
Andrew Gutierrez and Benjamin Monts in First Date. Photo by Daren Scott

All in all, Onstage Playhouse's production of First Date is a must-see. Congratulations on offering a platform for up-and-coming, diverse artists to thrive and show their talent. Other theatre companies should take a page from this book. (ahem *clears throat*).

Currently playing until November 6. For performance times and ticket prices please click here. 


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